Time was when the Formula Ford Festival was a huge event with 8 heats. But that was way back when the formula was supported by Ford and every country seem to have its own series. There was even a year when 198 drivers entered. Those days are gone and so this year there were less than 50 entries and only two heats. If course, it makes it easier to report on but it still seems sad.
Weather: Sunny, windy.
Making his comeback after half a season with no racing Philip Glew (Jamun Racing) had managed to put his Mygale on pole by a considerable margin from Marko Asmer (Team JLR), the Estonian in a van Diemen. Although Glew was optimistic about his chances, he was also aware that the second grid slot is a much better place to start from at Brands Hatch. This meant he would need to be fully alert at the start if he didn't want Asmer to get the jump on him into Paddock Hill Bend. Meanwhile, Michel Xavier was in trouble before the race even started, the Frenchman having to be push-started by several breathless marshals before he could even set off on the green flag lap.
Glew failed to get away ahead of Asmer at the lights, and ended up slipping back to 3rd, behind Tom Kimber-Smith (Team JLR). Further back, and unnoticed by many, Valle Makela (Nexa Racing) was on the move, determined to make up for his poor qualifying session (in his defence he was not at all well. "Thursday I was big sick" the Finn said, in a rare fit of garrulousness).
Behind the top three of Asmer, Kimber-Smith and Glew, Matt Koskinen (Nexa Racing) was holding off Ewen Merrett (Jamun Racing) for 4th while Makela sized both of them up. It didn't take him long to despatch the pair of them, which meant that Glew was now in danger of finding himself on the receiving end of severe pressure from the Finn, who proceeded to set the fastest lap of the race while pursuing the Englishman.
While Robert How and Oliver Playle tangled and went off at Graham Hill Bend, Makela forced a way past Glew to go 3rd, but it was obvious he wouldn't settle for that. He had the bit firmly between his teeth and he could see his next victim, Kimber-Smith. With two cars already off, the next to go wobbly was Stephen Jelley (Medina Sport), who ended up in the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend, sitting forlornly in the middle of a giant Zen garden in his van Diemen.
While that was happening, Makela saw his chance and squeezed up the inside of Kimber-Smith at Paddock. Unfortunately what he didn't seem to see were the waved yellow flags (you would have expected him to see it - he's been caught like that before at Brands and lost the race win as a result). It was a shame because it was a brilliant move, but it wasn't a clever idea. And then, with cars needing to be hauled to safety all over the shop, the organisers scrambled the Safety Car. If Makela had been thinking he would have dropped back behind Kimber-Smith and waited for another chance. However.
They settled in behind the car, Asmer still leading, Makela in 2nd, Kimber- Smith 3rd from Glew, Daniel Clarke (Ray Sport), Charlie Donnelly (Comtec), Tony Rodgers (Team Jato Motorsport) and Koskinen, who was now going rapidly backwards. A couple of laps later they were able to restart. Asmer got a good run at Paddock, but he couldn't shake Makela, who slipped through, almost taking Kimber-Smith with him. The Englishman finally got through a lap later, which must have been especially galling for Asmer after he'd led from the start. Just when it looked as if we might be able to settle down and race, there was yet another incident. This time it was Suk Sander (Ray Sport) who was in trouble, his car digging in and then flipping over in the gravel at Druids. This time it was going to take more than a few laps behind the safety car. The race was red-flagged and a result declared. Makela was the man who collected the trophy (and gave a very funny interview - at least if you weren't the one trying to coax answers out of him - having seemingly decided he wasn't going to give anyone any information he didn't have to). Needless to say, he didn't get to keep it long, a time penalty bouncing him back down to 3rd behind Asmer and Kimber- Smith.
Weather: Sunny, windy.
This time the pole-sitter did get away well. Joey Foster (Continental Racing) hung on to his lead off the line, despite anything Alx Danielsson (Ray Sport) could do. He couldn't shake the Swede off, but he could make life very difficult for him, and from almost the first corner that was what he did.
Behind the two of them, the seriously under-funded Ben Clucas (Jamun Racing) was 3rd, though he didn't seem to have much to worry about apart from trying to catch the leaders, as he had Tom Gaymor (Comtec) behind him, and if there's one thing Gaymor does it's laid back, sometimes to the point where you start to wonder if this racing thing isn't just too much trouble for him. However, having established that he could see the front, Gaymor started looking interested, and with Danielsson all over the back of Foster, Clucas and Gaymor were right on their tails. The result was a 16- wheeled Formula Ford at the front of the pack.
Behind the four of them, and falling back, was the world's oldest Dutch racing driver, Michel Florie, but he was having a deal of trouble holding one of the youngest of the breed, Nelson van der Pol (Geva Racing Service), at bay. He couldn't manage it for very long and eventually had to give ground. He soon lost out to James Walker (Team JLR) as well though things can change very fast in the course of this meeting.
The battle for the lead was beginning to crystallise now. Danielsson was looking especially determined but it was about to be his undoing. A lunge at Foster saw the Swede run very wide. As a result Clucas, who managed a very smart pieced of avoidance, hacked his way through, which left the door open for Gaymor as well. However, it wasn't quite over yet. The Dutchmen were about to get into trouble. First van der Pol made a mess of things and lost ground, then Florie tripped over Yuya Sakamoto (Nexa Racing), the Japanese ending up in the gravel. The Safety Car was scrambled but it only added to van der Pol's misery. He was caught out by the sudden slow down of everyone ahead. He managed to tear a wheel off and was out of the race, allowing Oliver Jarvis (Team JLR) and Darwin Smith (Mackie Motorsport) to benefit.
At the restart, Clucas piled the pressure on but Foster seemed to be truly bulletproof and nothing was going to get by him. His tactics were superb, driving a very wide car but not in a way that would lead to trouble later. It was a masterful display from the youngster from Cornwall and it certainly marked him out as a hard man to beat.
Clucas had to settle for 2nd, from Gaymor, Danielsson, Jarvis and Smith.
The grids for these two races were - we think - based on the results of the heats but the rules were hard to follow to put it mildly.
Weather: Sunny. Cold.
The first three rows of the grid contained Asmer, Clucas, Danielsson, Makela, Koskinen and Smith. It was going to be tough out there. Asmer duly made a good start, while Makela set about Danielsson. There was a real risk that they might wipe each other out, which wouldn't do a great deal for the Baltic team in the Nations Cup part of the competition, as they made up two thirds of it. Koskinen was having trouble holding back Smith, meanwhile, though the American was a lot further up than would normally be expected so no one should have been too surprised when he couldn't keep the Irishman at bay.
The Makela/Danielsson battle went the way of the Finn after he pulled an unlikely move at Paddock Hill Bend, driving right round the outside of Alx. Technically, it can't be done, but Makela has little interest in technicalities. It was one hell of a move, a fact he was obviously well aware of because afterwards he kept asking people if they'd seen what he'd done. Smith and Koskinen were still going at each other tooth and claw, though it was clear that Smith was the faster of the two.
As the front-runners started to break away from the pack, van der Pol was making his way up to lead the rest, but most eyes were glued to the front of the field. Clucas briefly snatched the lead from Asmer, but Asmer attempted to wrest it back, only to find he had Makela filling his mirrors yet again, pushing hard to find a way through. As a result, Clucas was able to break away and by the time Makela had found a way past Asmer, Clucas was probably too far ahead to catch. He wasn't going to stop trying though. He set off in pursuit of Clucas, setting another fastest race lap on the way, but it really did seem to be too late.
As if Asmer hadn't had enough of Scandinavians, he was now getting the Danielsson treatment, as they ran in very close formation, with Smith joining in as he caught the scrapping pair. Van der Pol had now run into trouble again, as he was now stuck behind Hideto Yasuoka (Medina Sport), and the tiny Japanese wasn't about to let him through. His progress seemed to be at an end. However, the real fun was still the scrap for 3rd, which got really entertaining now. Smith was able to pass Danielsson after Danielsson attacked Asmer, got rebuffed, and fell back to 5th. The fun was abruptly halted, however, when Sander went off at Druids again, though at least he landed the right way up this time.
And so Clucas won, from Makela, Asmer, Smith, Danielsson and Yasuoka.
This time the start was a bit slow in comparison to Eliminator 1, but Foster made another nice clean getaway, while Kimber-Smith and Gaymor settled in behind him. Foster once again didn't seem to have quite the amount of speed of the others, but he was in front and so he ended up having to drive what must surely have been the world's widest Formula Ford car.
Kimber-Smith kept taking a look but he wasn't able to find a way round Foster, and Foster wasn't going to help him any, that was for sure. As a result, everyone was bunching up behind Foster, and any mistake from anyone was likely to get very messy. As they progressed nose-to-tail, Foster leading from Kimber-Smith, Gaymor, Rodgers, Jarvis and Walker, it was just a case of waiting for someone to make an ill-considered move. Gaymor attacked Kimber-Smith as they went into Druids, which allowed Foster to finally break away a little though he certainly wasn't in a position to relax at all yet.
In the middle of the field, Festival veteran Raphael Real del Sarte (Nexa Racing) was being harassed by Jelley who had started from 20th and was now trying to break into the top 10. His progress was temporarily halted when one of the back markers fell off at McLaren, though it wasn't long before the yellow flags were pulled in and it was business as usual at the front.
The battle for 4th had intensified, with Rodgers leads it from Jarvis and Walker, only to lose out to Jarvis in the closing stages. Gaymor, meanwhile, was past Kimber-Smith and was right one Foster's tail with 5 laps to go. Foster blocked Gaymor at every opportunity, only to find that a lap from the end the problem went away as Gaymor's engine failed and he was suddenly out of contention.
Quietly getting on with things, Donnelly fought his way through to 6th then passed Walker for 5th, while Jelley was an impressive 7th, having made up 13 places.
So Foster racked up another victory from Kimber-Smith, Jarvis, Donnelly, Walker and Jelley.
Last Chance Race:
These two races were for everyone who had not automatically made it through to the final from the Eliminators, or for that matter those who hadn't got as far as the Eliminators. There was a very arcane points scoring system that decided who started from where on the grid, and it all looked to be a lot more complicated than it needed to be, but the gist of it was that the front runners from each heat/eliminator were through to the final automatically (give or take the odd individual) and the rest of them ended up in the last chance race. Confused? We certainly were by this point.
With van der Pol and Sakamoto on the front row, and only 6 drivers going through the final, this was always going to be interesting. There weren't many laps to do it in either.
Certainly van der Pol got off to a very good start, while Sakamoto lost out to Clarke for 2nd, though he fought back as hard as he could. The man really on the move was Glew, who was not a happy bunny and wanted to get into the final if he possibly could. He was soon 5th, so it looked good for him. He next set off in pursuit of James Gleave, while Clarke relieved van der Pol of the lead. It wasn't exactly difficult as van der Pol is a stranger to Brands, while Clarke isn't. That let Sakamoto onto the Dutchman's tail.
Meanwhile, there was quite a big accident at Clearways, when Michel Xavier and Simon Kinsey tangled, both crashing out on the spot. Neither driver was injured but the field has to slow down once again while the wreckage was moved out of the way.
Glew had dealt with Gleave and was now looking at 3rd, while Florie had set the fastest lap of the race and was in 5th - which was a little too bizarre for some people to even think about! He took Gleave in a classic move at Druids, but there were mutterings about the last days and signs of the end of the world from one of the Dutch spectators! Meanwhile van der Pol lost 2nd to Sakamoto, only for Sakamoto to suffer a major mechanical failure and drop out of the race. The Japanese had endured a very cruel weekend at Brands and probably won't want to remember it in a hurry.
Formula Ford Festival Final:
Weather: Windy, cold, clear.
The final got underway a few minutes late (the Kent Formula Ford Final had been stopped for the 3rd time before they gave up and decided to try again at the end of the day) but not too late. The light was dull but it hadn't actually gone, unlike in previous years. Anyway, the man under pressure was Foster, who was on pole and had it all to prove. He had won his heat from pole, won his eliminator, and if he could win the final there was an extra